Master’s in Early Childhood Education Program Guide

December 10, 2020

Share on Social

An early childhood education (ECE) degree prepares students for careers caring for and teaching young children, primarily in preschool classrooms and daycare facilities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that job openings for childcare workers will increase 7% by 2026, and job openings for preschool teachers will increase by 10% in the same timeframe. These numbers indicate that enrolling in an early childhood education program can set students up for viable, long-term careers.

What are the Best Master's in Early Childhood Education Programs? Here are our top 10:

#1 University of Houston - Clear Lake Houston, TX
#2 California State University - Fullerton Fullerton, CA
#3 University of Colorado Denver Denver, CO
#4 Clemson University Clemson, SC
#5 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND
#6 Auburn University Auburn, AL
#7 University of Missouri Columbia, MO
#8 Biola University La Mirada, CA
#9 Concordia University - Nebraska Seward, NE
#10 University of Dayton Dayton, OH

The BLA projects that job openings for childcare workers will increase 7% by 2026, and job openings for preschool teachers will increase by 10% in the same timeframe.

Since young children often learn science, math, and language in one classroom, aspiring professionals in early childhood education need a solid foundation in a variety of subjects. Work settings in this field are often creative, playful environments that supply fun moments for both students and educators.

Early childhood education students may also receive teaching-related financial aid such as the TEACH Grant. Graduates can also take advantage of the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program, a valuable benefit during the current student loan crisis.

Should I Get a Master's in Early Childhood Education?

Students pursuing an early childhood education degree should hold a strong interest in interacting with children. Since preschool teachers invest multiple hours a day managing groups of young children, early childhood education students and workers should relate to children on a level that encourages trust and confidence. Educating this particular age group also requires patience and significant energy, since young children can prove demanding, hyper, and sensitive. Early childhood education programs build skills in communication, curriculum preparation, behavior, child development, and management. By earning this degree, candidates gain a competitive edge for careers in the field.

When choosing a program, learners should consider which delivery method best fits their scheduling and professional needs. Online programs offer flexible schedules and allow working teachers to maintain their current employment. On-campus programs, on the other hand, may increase chances of obtaining a local teaching position. Local programs also help students meet requirements for state licensure.

Learning on-campus also fosters networking relationships. This networking occurs through practicums and internships, as well as symposia and other events. During these experiences, degree seekers interact with professionals in the field and make valuable connections. Even online students may build relationships through internships and practicums at local schools in their area.

What Can I Do With a Master's in Early Childhood Education?

Early childhood education majors learn valuable skills for dealing with young children. Graduates can use these abilities in classrooms as preschool teachers and teaching assistants. The general foundation of caring for children makes this degree applicable in other careers, as well. For instance, individuals with an early childhood education degree can earn positions as directors and providers for daycare and childcare facilities. Other careers include less obvious possibilities, such as a consultant for early childhood organizations or early education college professor. For any of these careers, ideal candidates should possess a creative mind, a love of children, and the ability to adapt to unexpected occurrences.

Childcare Worker

These workers watch over multiple children and provide them with a safe, healthy environment. Childcare workers interact with children through play, instruction, and caretaking. They also monitor children for indications of physical or psychological problems that need attention. Additional tasks relate to nutrition, time management, and updates on children's progress.

Median Annual Salary: $22,290*

Preschool Teacher

Preschool teachers help students who are too young for kindergarten learn early concepts such as numbers, colors, communication, and hygiene basics. These teachers plan curricula and encourage children to learn through play, storytelling, and interaction with other children. Work settings include schools and childcare organizations.

Median Annual Salary: $28,990*

Teacher Assistant

This type of employment includes keeping up with classroom information, such as grades, and offering students help with classroom topics. These assistants also aid in monitoring students and maintaining classroom guidelines. Other responsibilities involve getting classrooms ready for the day's itinerary. Teacher assistants may specialize in a certain area as well, such as special education.

Median Annual Salary: $26,260*

Special Education Teacher

These teachers cater to students with various needs. In order to best assist those learners, special education teachers must evaluate needs and abilities to form child-specific curriculum. This process may include altering current course itineraries and creating individualized education programs for students. Additionally, these workers may need to discuss student progress with parents.

Median Annual Salary: $58,980*

Preschool and Childcare Center Directors

Directors of this caliber oversee childcare workers and teachers, make decisions regarding policy, and choose applicants to hire as new employees. These workers also deal with budgets, update parents on children's wellbeing, and ensure the center functions according to relevant standards, such as federal regulations for Head Start programs.

Median Annual Salary: $46,890*

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Choose a Master's in Early Childhood Education Program

Students should consider a variety of characteristics when choosing a college, including cost and program length. A master's in early childhood education requires about two years to complete, but certain factors can alter that time frame. A program with a higher credit requirement, for instance, can take longer to finish. Part-time students usually take longer than two years to earn a master's degree. Schools may charge part-time learners higher tuition rates, but part-time status gives more flexibility to working individuals. Some schools offer accelerated options or summer sessions to shorten time to completion.

Students should also consider the specializations, courses, and areas of focus available through each early childhood education program. Choosing a degree with a specialization or curriculum in an area of interest could provide professional benefits. Students should also think about program requirements, including practicums, internships, thesis papers, or final projects. Some candidates may not possess the time to write a thesis, for instance, so a program with a final project may prove more suitable.

Learners should consider location as well, particularly since education degrees may come with a practicum or teaching component. Online learners can usually fulfill these requirements close to their homes or workplaces. Students interested in teaching in a different state may consider a program in that state. Areas with a shortage of teachers may offer a higher chance of obtaining a teaching position, so learners may choose to study near those areas.

Cost also matters. Some learners may intend to study on a budget, especially if they live in or attend school in an area with a high cost of living. Program expenses vary significantly. Public in-state schools usually charge the lowest rates. Private universities usually cost the most, but charge the same rate for all students regardless of state residency. Out-of-state tuition usually costs much more than in-state tuition.

Students should also consider the benefits of online and on-campus learning to decide which option best suits their interests.

Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in Early Childhood Education Programs

Accreditation indicates that a college or university meets the educational and professional standards of a national or regional organization. Students can trust that accredited institutions' academics feature rigorous, relevant courses and acceptable learning outcomes. Additionally, students can only earn certain financial aid at accredited schools.

Programmatic accreditation assesses certain programs and departments within a school. For instance, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation approves teaching programs. Future employers may look for this accreditation when considering job candidates.

Teaching license requirements vary from state to state. Many state licensing boards require teacher candidates to attend a regionally accredited school. Candidates should check state guidelines and research how well each program prepares for a teaching license.

Master's in Early Childhood Education Program Admissions

Learners should apply to three types of school. The first category is target schools, or institutions with qualities the student appreciates and admission standards that give them a strong chance of acceptance. The second category of schools includes colleges and universities that appeal to the student, but hold more vigorous admission details. This strategy gives applicants the possibility of acceptance at a prestigious university, with little risk. Degree seekers should also apply to safe options, or schools with lower admission standards than their preferred institutions. By applying to these institutions, candidates may trust that they can continue their education even if their ideal schools reject them.

Several factors should influence students' college selection, including location, cost, and available programs. A student intending to teach special education in Missouri, for instance, may choose a Midwest school that offers a special education concentration. Students can also choose between online and on-campus programs, and can expect different admission experiences for each.


Candidates applying for a master's in early childhood education should hold a bachelor's, though schools often do not require a specific major. However, colleges and universities may ask for prior coursework in areas such as child development. Some programs may insist that applicants hold a current teaching license and classroom experience. However, certain institutions may accept a practicum for the experience component. Schools often require a 3.0 GPA for students to enter a master's program. Learners who do not meet the minimum GPA requirement can contact schools to explore their options.

Admission Materials

This process can require days or weeks. Certain schools require written components such as statements of purpose, personal essays, and letters of recommendation. Learners may save time by using CommonApp to create one application for several schools. Transcripts provide records of academic progress. Students should contact every school they have attended and request to send transcripts to their new schools. Typically, learners must pay a small fee for each transcript. Letters of recommendation may come from professors, employers, or community leaders. For example, a student might request a letter from the director of the organization where they volunteer. Candidates should give their references at least two weeks to write the letters. Some graduate programs may require learners to take the GRE. However, many schools provide no specific score for admission. Programs that ask for a teaching license may also, by extension, require an exam that was included in the licensure process. Some schools do not charge an application fee at all, while others charge $25-$95. Students can check with schools to ask about available application fee waivers.

What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Early Childhood Education Program?

Students interested in a particular topic or career should research early childhood education programs with concentrations in that subject. These concentrations can prepare learners for careers in certain fields or workplaces. For instance, a candidate hoping for an administrative position in an early childhood organization can choose a concentration in educational leadership.

Concentrations Offered for a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education
Concentration Description Careers
Administration Management and Leadership This focus examines child development concepts, but also explores business aspects of childcare and preschool settings. Learners may study educational programs for children, communication strategies for dealing with faculty, and research components for management. Childcare and preschool director, elementary school administrator
Teacher Licensure Certain early childhood education master's degrees lead to teaching licensure. These options often include supervised student teaching elements at approved settings. Elementary school teacher
Childhood Nutrition This concentration features information on ideal food patterns for children. Learners can take courses targeted toward specific age groups, such as nutrition for children under five. Preschool teachers, childcare workers, nutrition policy advocate
English as a Second Language (ESL) These programs prepare learners to teach English to children who speak another language. Possible class topics include culture-specific challenges and concepts linked to learning a language. ESL teacher, ESL tutor, English teacher in foreign countries
Special Education These programs teach candidates to note signs of special needs in children and to identify tactics to assist those learners. Students also learn how to interact with the child's family. Special education teacher

Courses in a Master's in Early Childhood Education Program

Course offerings vary, depending on school, and students should review each institution's curriculum to find the early childhood education degree that best suits their needs. However, certain foundational topics are common across most programs. The names of these courses may differ, but many degrees feature the following topics:

Childhood Literature

These courses explore the different genres of children's literature. For instance, the course may cover fairy tales, picture books, fantasy novels, and young adult fiction. Students may explore common themes, the evolution of children's writing, and ways literature impacts children. This course prepares candidates to help children learn to read.

Early Childhood Curriculum

Students in this class learn to develop curricula based on their class's needs. Candidates encounter theories and methodologies involved in classroom design and organization, and apply those concepts in building lesson plans and choosing activities for young children. Graduates can use the information from this course to prepare day-to-day itineraries in preschools and daycare facilities.

Child Development

These courses borrow concepts from external fields, including psychology and sociology, to examine a child's growth on various levels. A child development class may cover cognitive changes as children age, as well as psychological needs of children at specific times in their lives. This information could prove useful for learners who take positions that involve counseling children. Teachers can also use the information to determine appropriate behavior and activities for different age groups.

Child Behavior

Childcare and preschool workers must manage classrooms and monitor the behavior of children. Child behavior classes give students insight on how to effectively encourage good behavior for the age group. Learners may also explore environmental elements that cause children to behave poorly.

Student Teaching

Many educational programs require student teaching experiences. During these field requirements, candidates apply the skills they learned within the program in a classroom setting. This element allows degree seekers to gain classroom experience, a value component even for students who plan to pursue administrative roles.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Early Childhood Education?

Typically, master's degrees take two years to complete. However, program details may alter this time frame. For instance, accelerated programs allow learners to advance through coursework quickly. Cohort programs, on the other hand, require learners to take courses as a group. Cohort programs follow a strict predetermined schedule.

Early childhood education master's commonly include 30-36 credits. Learners need to complete 15-18 credits per year to finish the degree in two years. Students can divide these credits into fall and spring semesters only, or choose a program that includes additional semesters. Learners who need longer than two years can take smaller course loads. However, schools may charge part-time students more per credit, and other institutions may charge learners extra for taking an excess number of credits.

How Much Is a Master's in Early Childhood Education?

Tuition rates differ among colleges and universities, and certain factors may impact the cost of an early childhood education degree. For instance, private universities usually charge more in tuition than public colleges. While public schools receive state funding, private institutions must depend more heavily on tuition money and private donors.

Additionally, degree candidates may experience higher tuition rates at out-of-state schools. However, some out-of-state schools allow all online students to pay in-state rates, regardless of where they live. Students who study part time may pay higher tuition rates, depending on the school's policies. Likewise, colleges and universities may charge fees for students enrolling in a high number of courses per semester.

In addition to tuition, learners in early childhood education programs may have to pay certain fees. Possible costs include technology fees, student services fee, fieldwork fees, health fees, and housing fees. Students must also consider textbook costs, with each book potentially costing $100 or more, and commuting expenses like gasoline and parking permits.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Early Childhood Education Prepares For

Teaching License

Certain programs can lead to teaching licensure, but candidates may have to take additional steps. Many states, for instance, expect teaching candidates to pass Praxis exams. Students whose programs do not include these assessments must fulfill this requirement individually. Learners can ask their schools and local school boards about any additional steps for teaching licensure.

Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential

The CDA credential verifies excellence in caring for children ages five and under. In order to apply, candidates need 120 hours of training and another 480 hours of fieldwork. Candidates must also complete the CDA exam. This credential can help professionals in all areas of early childhood education, including daycare and preschool.

Certified Child Care Professional (CCP)

CCP certification demonstrates knowledge of child safety, leadership qualities, child development, and environmental management. This credential targets childcare workers and early educators. The application process requires an exam, portfolio, recommendation letters, writing samples, 720 hours of experience, and 180 hours of training. The work experience component must include childcare for children under six.

English as a Second Language (ESL) Certification

ESL certification proves that educators can teach in a bilingual environment. Certification processes vary according to state, so interested candidates should research local requirements.

Childcare License

In order to open a childcare facility, even a home-based center, candidates must obtain this license. Requirements vary by state, but common topics include safety, nutrition, and cleanliness. Applicants may also become familiar with childcare standards, such as lighting and fencing needs.

Resources for Early Childhood Education Graduate Students


This organization provides information about each state's licensure process. Learners can also explore different teaching subjects, grade levels, and other education-related careers. Students considering an early childhood education master's program may explore tips for college applications.

APA Format

APA is the standard citation format for education majors. This website guides writers through APA elements, including cover page, page numbers, citations, and bibliography. With this go-to manual, students can structure papers successfully, even with no previous APA experience.

National Education Association

The NEA hosts information on lesson plans, classroom regulation, methodology, and funding. Keeping up-to-date with these details can help students enter the teaching world with an informed perspective.

Newspaper in Education Teacher Resources

This site provides information regarding curriculum planning, bullying, safety, health, and anti-drug awareness.

Learning Disabilities Association of America

The information available on this site can assist anyone working with children with disabilities. Topics include dysgraphia, language processing disorder, and dyspraxia. Special education majors, in particular, may find this resource useful.

Professional Organizations in Early Childhood Education

Professional organizations provide candidates with multiple benefits, including the ability to network through conferences, seminars, and other events. Many of these groups also assist with professional endeavors by providing members with job boards and current research. Organizations may offer continuing education (CE) programs to help teachers maintain or upgrade their licenses. For instance, the American Psychological Association currently operates 18 CE programs related to educational concepts.

PACER Center

The PACER Center provides assistance to children with disabilities and their families. The site contains information on events, including a workshop, symposium, and student art contest.

U.S. Department of Education Classroom Resources

Teachers can explore this site for resources on special education, bullying, and general classroom ideas. Topics include learning to read, exploring holidays, encouraging safety, and exploring scientific concepts.

National Association for the Education of Young Children

NAEYC grants accreditation to certain educational programs. The association also hosts a yearly conference and public policy forum. Educators can explore periodicals and books, including Teaching Young Children. NAEYC provides a blog with tips for explaining science to children and teaching math in creative ways.

My Teaching Station

Educators can use this resource to explore lesson plans and worksheets for children. Other site benefits include ideas for craft projects, tips for teaching handwriting, and articles such as Learning the Alphabet: The Complete Guide.

The two-time NBA champion enrolled at North Carolina A&T State University this fall to pursue a degree in liberal studies and play college golf. Getting into a college isn't an exact science. Here, we've identified five things to include on your application that may help you nail the formula. Discover 18 Friendsgiving food ideas for college students. Explore options for appetizers, entrees, and desserts.